In Korea, Samgyetang (ginseng chicken soup) is eaten on the hottest days of the summer to “cool down” and replenish energy. It’s considered to be a very healthy dish with medicinal benefits.
I used to think this was a weird concept until I tried it myself- it really works! The custom in Korea is to eat Samgyetang during hot summer days to replenish nutrients lost through sweating. The heat in Korea is very wet- it’s hot, humid, and extremely draining especially after doing physical activities.
Although popular for eating during the summer, Samgyetang is eaten year-round and my husband actually prefers it during the winter. I like it any time of the year! It’s such a clean, healthy soup and I always feel amazing after eating it.
Cornish hen- I recommend using cornish hens for this recipe, but you can use a larger whole chicken or even bone-in chicken pieces.
Fresh ginseng root- this is probably the most important ingredient in Samgyetang. Without it, it’s not ginseng chicken soup.
Glutinous rice- you can use short grain rice if that’s all you have, but glutinous rice is ideal for thickening the soup. I always leave a little bit of the rice outside of the Cornish hens (just at the bottom of the pot) to help the soup thicken better.
Aromatics- lots of garlic, large green onion, and jujubes.
Toppings– chopped green onion (I like a lot), an salt & pepper to taste.
Where to get ingredients
Any Asian supermarket will have all of these ingredients. Ginseng is very expensive and you may not want to purchase $20 worth at one time. I usually just freeze the rest and use it the next time I make Samgyetang or an herbal tea.
But if this isn’t an option for you, there are Samgyetang kits you can buy that have dried ginseng root, glutinous rice, jujubes, and sometimes dried chestnuts or ginkgo nuts.
Home vs. Restaurant
In Korea, there are TONS of samgyetang restaurants. They only make Samgyetang, so you know it’s going to be good. Restaurants take it a step further and use really good quality chicken stock to develop even deeper flavors. If you have good quality chicken stock, you should use it instead of water!
If you don’t have any, it’s totally fine- it will still taste good. Another option is to add some chicken bouillon to your broth. Because this is a summer health dish, I don’t normally add any chicken flavoring, but it’s an option if you don’t care for keeping the broth pure and really want those deeper flavors.
Separating the fat
I normally don’t filter out the fat because there’s flavor in it and I don’t mind consuming a little extra fat. If you want a healthier soup or don’t like fat, you can use a spoon or fat separator to filter it out, or if you have time you can refrigerate the soup until the fat solidifies at the top and scrape it off.
The soup should be a cloudy off-white color, and it should be slightly thickened.
How to eat Samgyetang
Other than adding chopped green onions and salt/pepper to taste, I only need some kkakdugi (radish kimchi). I also usually cook some steamed rice to have on the side, because there is never enough of the glutinous rice in it for me.
I didn’t grow up eating Samgyetang this way, but I’ve seen some restaurants that’s serve it with sauces on the side. One is usually a mix of sesame oil, salt, pepper, and sesame seeds that you just dip your chicken into. Another one is soy sauce based and has onions, peppers, vinegar, and sugar.
Personally, I don’t really think these sauces are necessary. I like the light chicken flavor that Samgyetang has- it feels light, clean, & healthy, and it tastes really good with some well-fermented kkakdugi kimchi.
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Samgyetang (Ginseng Chicken Soup)
- 2 cornish hens
- 1/2 cup glutinous rice or short grain rice
- 8 plump garlic cloves smashed
- 2 large green onions white parts
- 2 jujubes
- 2 ginseng roots
- 6 cups water or good quality chicken stock
- chopped green onion
- salt & pepper
- sesame oil
- Wash the rice a few times then soak in water for 30 minutes.
- Smash the garlic cloves and chop the green onions. I'm also using just the white parts of large green onion (depa), but if you can't find depa then you can just use 4 white parts of a regular green onion.
- Clean the Cornish hens inside & out under cold running water. Tear off any pieces of fat that easily come off, then cut off any excess fat including the tail & wing tips.
- Stuff the cavity with the soaked rice & 2 cloves of smashed garlic each, but leave a little room for the rice to expand. You should still have some rice leftover- that's fine we need it in the pot outside of the Cornish hens to help thicken the soup.
- You can tie the legs together if you have butcher's twine, or you can just cut a slit into one of the legs
- Then cross the other leg over and pass it through the slit to secure it.
- Put the chicken into a pot along with the remaining garlic & rice, jujubes, fresh ginseng root, & large green onions.
- Bring to a boil and skim off any scum that floats to the surface.
- Cover on medium heat for 40 minutes. Add water if needed.
- Open the lid periodically to ladle the broth over the hens. You should notice a change in the viscosity of the broth as you do this- it will become thicker from the glutinous rice.
- Transfer the hens into individual bowls- you can use a heated earthenware bowl to keep it hot & bubbling if you want it restaurant style, but any regular bowl is fine. Season with salt & pepper to taste and top with chopped green onions.
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Loved this recipe! Couldn’t find Cornish hens but a reg chicken worked out well 🙂